Development of Spelling In Primary School

Updated: Sep 7

As in all areas, there is a developmental process in spelling that children go through in order to improve their spelling and become confident and accurate spellers.

Preliminary Spelling

  • The child uses scribbles, letters, and letter-like forms and shows a preference for uppercase letters.

  • There is no understanding of phoneme-grapheme correspondence.

  • The child’s writing shows a lack of understanding of conventions of print such as spaces between words and left to right progression of writing.

Semi-phonetic Spelling

  • Developing an understanding of GPCs and attempting to use them

  • Use phonemes that are most obvious – initial and final (wt for went) or initial/medial/final (bab for baby)

  • Whole word with 2 or 3 letters mostly consonants (ktn for kitten)

Phonetic Spellers

  • Choose GPCs on the basis of the sound of a word rather than conventional spelling patterns (wen for when, wich for witch)

  • Mostly represent the phonemes in a word (necst for next, peepl for people)

  • Alternative graphemes insecure (ai, ay, a-e, eigh, a, ey)

  • Write as they speak (fink for think, apsolootlee for absolutely)

Transitional Spellers

  • Move from sounds to structures

  • Use graphemes to represent all consonant and vowel phonemes with vowels in all syllables (enchanted, castle for castle)

  • May still over-focus on the sound of words and misunderstand word boundaries (curry door for corridor)

  • Beginning to use other strategies – knowledge of common letter patterns, critical features of words (silent letters, double consonants) and making analogies

  • A growing bank of known words

Independent Spellers

  • Aware of the many patterns and rules of the English spelling system, including uncommon patterns and irregular spellings (ceiling, pleasure)

  • Generalise and apply to unfamiliar words

  • Use prefixes and suffixes

  • Use a range of strategies

  • Aware when a word does not look right

  • Have a large bank of known words

Some children are not successfully developing through these stages of spelling development and too many remain stuck at the phonetic or transitional stage.

We need a clear understanding of what children need to ensure that they progress and develop the skills they need to make them independent and proficient spellers.

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